Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Doomsday Preppers

I was reading an article on Buzzfeed the other day about a woman who bills herself as a Survivalist Mom. She and her family are preparing for a massive emergency, whether that is an EMP or an earthquake they are prepared for anything. I've always found myself with a serious dislike of preppers but I couldn't ever really put my finger on why until I read Lisa's story. But before I tell you about Lisa, let me tell you about my uncle Jed.

Several years back my aunt Annie and uncle Jed moved from a small house in the suburbs of Dallas out to the vast wilderness of East Texas. They went from a three bedroom home in a town of 40,000 people to a three bedroom home in a town of 2,000 people and some of the seeds that sprouted into the idea of relocating came from a survivalist mindset, specifically a fear that President Obama (or other liberal democrats, I suppose) were going to come and take their guns. He bought a house out in the middle of nowhere in Texas with a pond and acres of land so he can fish, hunt and farm should the need arise. He set up a stockpile of MREs on a rotating stand in his garage. He has about 30 guns and enough ammunition to supply a small army. He thought he was ready for anything.

Then about 2 years ago a winter storm hit Texas, shutting down roads and taking out the power for several days. Turns out having a frozen over pond and no food growing meant nothing to eat that wasn't an MRE or already in their house. Turns out that the amount of gas it takes to power the generator is insane and he can't heat the whole house, so out to the barn he goes. Turns out having a truck with a full tank of gas to get away from the emergency doesn't help if it is in your garage and your garage door is electric. He and my aunt ended up living in the barn for almost a week, eating nothing but MREs and playing board games because they had no power. I’m sure he learned a lot from that experience and is better equipped for the next big emergency, but his experience is an excellent example of some of the problems I have with doomsday preppers.

My issues with most survivalists/preppers are as follows:

-There are about a million different types of emergencies, each with a different set of solutions. The blizzard today could be a terrorist attack tomorrow which could be a tornado next week, all of which bring very different sets of problems that need to be addressed. From what I’ve seen, whether in my own family or in the media, most preppers seem to be preparing for apocalyptic, end-of-humanity scenarios that mean civilization has broken down completely and all living people who didn’t prepare will starve to death in the streets. That means the most likely emergency scenarios are the ones they are the least prepared to handle. They have a bomb shelter with a year’s supply of hermetically sealed food and water in it that is useless in the event of a flash flood or ebola outbreak.

-The places in the world where civilization has broken down, whether that is due to ISIS destroying everything in Syria or government coups in various African nations, all point to a shelter of weapons, food and water doing exactly bupkis to protect you. A bunker is only helpful if you are riding out a short-term problem. Eventually your stores of food and water run out and you need to go back out into the world to replenish, which is fine if all of civilization is gone and you are free to hunt or grow crops of your own accord, but if there is a decades long civil war destroying your country there is no pristine world waiting for you to reinhabit it, just debris and shrapnel everywhere and a group of terrorists or soldiers who want to kill the crap out of you.

-Prepping for an apocalypse - like an actual, destruction of everything type of apocalypse - means that they’ve been dedicating their time, money and energy to surviving something that has happened a whopping 5 times in the billions of years our planet has been in existence. These people could have spent this time fighting climate change to prevent that apocalypse. They could have donated that money to hospitals or scientists researching cures for disease to prevent an apocalypse. They could have gotten involved in their local government and used that energy towards making sure that everyone’s needs are met to prevent a political uprising that might lead to an apocalypse. They have looked at the world, decided that everything is going straight to hell, and instead of working to make things better they’re focused on making sure they are the ones who will survive it.

This last point is my biggest issue with survivalists. Many seem like they are not preparing for a disaster but instead are hoping for a disaster. They are looking forward to being able to stand in front of a charred wasteland full of corpses and say, “I’m smarter than you! I’m better than you! Look how I’ve survived where you’ve failed!” They talk a big game about shooting people who are looting for food and water as though they can’t wait to kill you and everyone you love to prove that they are the Alphas of modern society. 

And now I’m coming back to Lisa’s story, as she is the first survivalist I’ve ever seen who seems concerned about the other people in the world who will be impacted by this impending disaster. She and her family are learning skills that will make them useful to others and they have put thought into making sure they are able and willing to trade so everyone can have what they need. She talks about the emotional difficulty that she experiences thinking about what to do when the neighbor kids are starving and begging for food. She feels the same fear that has pushed all of the doomsday preppers toward this lifestyle and has chosen to think of others outside of her immediate family as part of her planning. While I still think she and everyone in her community would be better served by working to make the world a better place I find comfort in the knowledge that in her potential apocalypse my death does not make her world a better place.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Casino

Last weekend my husband, daughter and I decided to take a trip to the Rhode Island/Connecticut border and explore the area a little. We went to the beach and watched the waves roll in, we ate lunch at a famously haunted restaurant, and went to Mohegan Sun. Mohegan Sun is a Casino with all the standard casino stuff – slots, craps, blackjack, giant art sculptures, high priced stores, fancy restaurants, etc. But they also have something that most casinos don’t have – a play area for kids. The play area is divided into two parts, an arcade for kids twelve and older and a play room for kids under twelve that is better than anything I could have expected. A karaoke stage, climbing wall, arts and crafts center, giant set of slides, movie theater, and pretend apartment for the best game of house you’ve ever seen all waited for my daughter to explore them while my husband and I got to go have a couple of hours of grown-up time. After we had an early lunch at one of the restaurants there we waltzed over to the play area and got in line to check our daughter into the facility.

As we signed her in the staff reviewed their rules and procedures with us, explaining how their schedule works. “Once she has been here for two and a half hours we will offer her a drink and a healthy snack. At two hour intervals from that point forward we will offer her food and drink and you will be charged accordingly.”

“Oh, we won’t be gone that long. We will be back in about 2 hours.” I told her.

“That’s fine, but we will offer her food and drink at these times. We close at 2 a.m. tonight.” She replied.

We thanked her and watched our daughter run off to begin exploring the playroom, not worrying about anything at all. We gambled, we wandered around looking at all the cool stuff in the casino, we browsed the shops, etc. When we were about 5 minutes out from the two hours we promised our daughter we would be gone we started walking back to the playroom to pick her up and a depressing reality dropped out of the sky and hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Oh my god” I said, “The reason she told us about the feeding schedule there is because some parents leave their kids there for the whole day! The reason she reiterated the feeding schedule and closing times to me was because parents will drop their kid off ‘for an hour or two’ and come back eight or nine hours later. Holy crap…”

“Wow, I hadn’t even considered that! Poor kids!” my husband exclaimed.

As we paid the bill ($11.50 an hour for the play place and an extra $4 for art supplies for the craft area) they asked for my ID when I pulled out my credit card. “Would someone really be dumb enough to have dropped off their kid, put a copy of their photo ID on file, and given you their phone numbers for emergency contact information only to then try to use a stolen credit card to pay the bill?” I asked.

“That happens almost every day.” The woman replied.

There in that brightly colored room full of happy, excited children we were brought face to face with the dark, slimy underbelly of a monster. While we will absolutely go back again since everyone in the family had a fabulous time, the looming shadow of addiction will be there to remind us that the bright lights and happy sounds are there not just to entertain but to distract us from reality.

Homer Simpson: “The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!”